25 Jul 2016

New Release- An Elegant Facade, Kristi Ann Hunter

Hawthorne House #2, 368 Pages 
Bethany House, 5th July 2016
Print, Ebook and Audio 

Lady Georgina Hawthorne has worked tirelessly to seal her place as the Incomparable for her debut season. At her first London ball, she hopes to snag the attention of an earl.
With money and business connections, but without impeccable bloodlines, Colin McCrae is invited everywhere but accepted nowhere.

When he first encounters the fashionable Lady Georgina, he's irritated by his attraction to a woman who concerns herself only with status and appearance.
What Colin doesn't know is that Georgina's desperate social aspirations are driven by the shameful secret she harbors. Association with Colin McCrae is not part of Georgina's plan, but as their paths continue to cross, they both must decide if the realization of their dreams is worth the sacrifices they must make.
I had some reservations about the last book in this trilogy, which was the story of Miranda, the eldest sister of the four aristocratic Hawthorne siblings, story although I enjoyed it overall. This was less about the espionage, and more about the young debutante trying to hide a secret which would make her out as a social failure. She had dyslexia, which prevented her from reading more than a few sentences, or being able to write legibly.

Honestly, I loved this book quite a lot more than the first. Georgina, the female protagonist is like marmite- you either love her or hate her, and I absolutely loved her! Yes, she was mercenary, manipulative and shallow, but there was something endearing about her. Perhaps it was her vulnerability or determination. Perhaps because I have some experience of dyslexia I sort of identified with Georgina's eccentricities and frustration.

The story follows Georgina's attempts to find a husband, and how her path crosses with Colin McRae, the Scottish businessman who has dealings with her family, and just does seem to keep appearing. As motives and social engagements clash, Colin and Georgina motives, personalities and secrets must be confronted so they can face their families, and discover the true meaning of love. The banter and rivalry between the two of them provided plenty of humour and character exploration, and when voice of Georgina's conscience manifesting as a 'Tiny Colin in her head' was a stroke of genius.

There was romance, inevitably, but it was not too mushy. The characters don't really even confront their feelings for each other until the end. Perhaps it was a bit forced, as some have suggested. The religious content was not overdone (again a little bit forced at the end), and Georgina's struggles to work out how she felt about God seemed credible enough.

My only real complaint is that as with the last book, there were a lot of Americanisms in the character's speech and the narration. Not as many as last time admittedly, and 'biggies' seem to have been avoided, but some did annoy me. A character at one point said 'Should I write him back’? when a native Brit would have said 'Should I write back to him'.
It might seem like nit-picking, but phrases like that just don't fit into the settings, and make the writing seem clunky and unnatural.
Also, the characters seemed to be continually eating their breakfast with just a fork, like Americans, rather than a knife and fork as would have been normal in polite British society, and is still the norm over here.

This complaint aside, An Elegant Facade was a pleasant and cleverly written Regency, exploring some interesting and unusual subjects, and important themes with sensitivity. At the same time, it was not too deep and the tone remained witty and light-hearted for the most part. Recommended for Regency fans.

I received a free e-book from Netgalley, and a print copy of this book from the publisher and their UK distributor for the purposes of writing a review. I was not required to write a positive one and all opinions expressed are my own.

13 Jul 2016

New Release- The Beautiful Pretender- Melanie Dickerson

Medieval Fairytale/Thornbeck Series #2, 
17th May 2016, 320 pages
Thomas Nelson: Print, ebook and Audio

After inheriting his title from his brother, the margrave has two weeks to find a noble bride. What will happen when he learns he has fallen for a lovely servant girl in disguise?
The Margrave of Thornbeck has to find a bride, fast. He invites ten noble born ladies who meet the king’s approval to be his guests at Thornbeck Castle for two weeks, a time to test these ladies and reveal their true character.
Avelina has only two instructions: keep her true identity a secret and make sure the margrave doesn’t select her as his bride. Since the latter seems unlikely, she concentrates on not getting caught. No one must know she is merely a maidservant, sent by the Earl of Plimmwald to stand in for his daughter, Dorothea.
Despite Avelina’s best attempts at diverting attention from herself, the margrave has taken notice. And try as she might, she can’t deny her own growing feelings. But something else is afoot in the castle. Something sinister that could have far worse—far deadlier—consequences.

Melanie Dickerson’s latest fairy-tale retelling was a lovely, quick light read. The typical, slightly whimsical style it retells a classic story (in this case The Princess and the Pea combined with elements of Beauty and the Beast) in a real Medieval setting with romance and a touch of intrigue. Mrs Dickerson has done a Beauty and the Beast retelling before with her second novel The Merchant’s Daughter but this one was original and satisfying enough to not cause any problems.
Those who read the last book The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest, will know some of the characters including the darkly mysterious Reinhart, Margrave of Thornbeck. (Margrave is defined as a military commander in charge of the defence of a province of the Holy Roman Empire). Avelina is sweet, but not Saccharine sweet and too perfect or infallible.

Reinhart gets his own story as the protagonist of this story, and he did turn out to be a fascinating and endearing character. In the last book there was a hint that he had more to him then the characters thought, and was not so evil, and this promise was delivered well. There are also some great supporting character including the young Magdelena, the daughter of a nobleman sent to Thornbeck as a potential suitor for the Margrave.
I do believe this was one of Mrs Dickerson’s stronger stories, as it’s not too fluffy or predictable and seemed to be more character-driven. I hate it in Romance stories when characters just think about kissing instead of more important and pressing matters. I did enjoy the scenes with King Karl at the end. It the first time a monarch has ever been present in one of the stories by this author, though they’re often mentioned. He could be imagined as as a little like Brian Blessed, looming large smiling, bearded and bellowing to bring about the resolution of the story.

My only complaints were with some of Avelina’s attitudes. Her ideas about nobles being equal to peasants were understandable, but seemed too modern, as did her ideas about romantic love and marriage. I don’t like I when its automatically assumed that arranged marriages were unhappy, but that was very much the case here. (Reinhart’s parents married for duty and were miserable- the usual cliché). History shows us plenty of examples of couples contented in arranged marriages, and I wish they would get more fair treatment in fiction.
Recommended for fans of historical fiction and light romance, as well as established fans of this author.

I received a copy of this book from Thomas Nelson via Booklook Bloggers for the purposes of writing a review. I was not required to write a positive one, and all opinions expressed are my own.

3 Jul 2016

Luther and Katherina- Jody Hedlund

Waterbrook Multnomah, 6th October 2015
368 Pages, Print and Ebook

Katharina von Bora has seen nothing but the inside of cloister walls since she was five. In a daring escape, Katharina finds refuge with Martin Luther and seeks his help to pair her with the noble, wealthy husband she desires.

As class tensions and religious conflicts escalate toward the brink of war, Martin Luther believes that each day could be his last and determines he will never take a wife.

As the horrors of the bloody Peasant War break out around them, the proud Katharina and headstrong Martin Luther fight their own battle for true love, in one of the greatest love stories of history.

This was my fourth book by the popular author Jody Hedlund. I don’t know very much at all about Martin Luther, so last year I decided to request this book about him. It looked good, even if I would not be easily able to distinguish fact from fiction. This was plugged as being the first outright Historical Fiction work by this author (as opposed to her previous Historical Romances), but personally I did not notice a whole lot of difference. There was still a very strong element of Romance and a lot of romancey scenes. I suppose the subtitle ‘A Novel of Love and Rebellion’ should have been a clue. For those who enjoy historical romance this would not be a problem, but those who expected something different might be disappointed. 

I do believe that whilst Mrs Hedlund is a good storyteller, her stories are not always well executed. They tend to be very dependent on ‘dramatic devices’ such as violence, both physical and sexual and throwing every adverse circumstance possible at the characters. The Middle section of the book is like a constant round of killing or the mention of killing, kidnapping, rape or attempted rape. For example, the word ‘torture’ is used 9 times, ‘abuse’ 10 times. For a book of just under 400 pages, if you average it out, it’s like a mention of torture or abuse every 20 pages. 
I understand there was a Peasant’s Revolt and a virtual war between the Princes and Peasants, but the book just seemed to get really, really repetitive at this point, with Luther agonizing about the actions of the peasants, but wanting to support them, and flitting back and forth between sympathies and alliegances.

Also, I found Luther to be an incredibly frustrating character. We are told numerous times that he was totally against violence, and would condemn the use of violence by either side. Yet he seemed to be constantly prepared to make excuses for the peasants saying ‘their demands have merit’, and harping on about ‘freedom’- even when they were going about raping nuns and disembowelling priests in the name of his reforms. Then, when the nobles supress the revolt, which he advised them to do, he condemned them for it, because they used violent means and he was meant to be the protector of the peasants. Protector of what? Murderers and rapists from the consequences of their actions?  

Although my knowledge of this period is limited, a number of details struck me as rather modern. One was Luther’s outlook, particularly when it came to politics and the ‘freedom’. I almost wonder whether American authors seem to have some odd need to interpret everything in European history as some sort of ‘class war’ or in light of their revolution. There were a number of modern terms and phrases (I’m sure one of the characters said ‘gal’ at one point), and the way in which Katherina would occasionally whine about nobody having the right to ‘control her life’. 

 I also did not feel the treatment of the church was always entirely fair and accurate. I know the 16th century Catholic church was corrupt, I know the Reformation was needed, but the depiction just seemed to be taken to extremes. Thus the Abbott of the Abbey from which Katherina escapes was a sadist and a rapist. I mean how stereotypical can you get- the evil and immoral cleric? It’s also said that she and many of her fellows ‘had no choice’ or were forced by their families into the celibate vocation of being nuns. This detail in particular did not ring true, because whilst there were some people who were put into monasteries and nunneries as children, many people still chose to enter them or go into the church willingly.  Finally, there was absolutely no mention of the way that Luther went off the rails in his later years, and became not only an anti-Semite, but as oppressive as the system that had been thrown off. 

Perhaps the author was simply unaware of this, but Luther seemed altogether rather too heroic and perfect, as well as the ideas he represented.  It’s like as long as the lead character represents the ‘true gospel’ social equality and ‘freedom’ or Protestantism against the supposedly evil ‘system’ or ‘institutional religion’, then they and everything they stand for is all sweetness and light. Sadly, that’s not always the case in real life. 

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Blogging for Books for the purposes of leaving a review. I was not required to write a positive one and all opinions expressed are my own.
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